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We refer to Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s facebook post, in which he described and published pictures of a joint simulation exercise among the police, SCDF and foreign worker ambassadors. According to his post, this exercise was meant to ‘network up the agencies’ and ‘spread preventive messages.’ However, what it has done is reinforce the stereotype that foreign workers, especially those of South Asian origin are more prone to violence and riots. Not only does this encourage racism towards the community, it de-humanises and marginalises migrant workers even further. Such an approach also counters current efforts to integrate migrant workers into Singapore society.
If the government is concerned about fights and skirmishes, more resources need to be spent to ensure migrant workers receive adequate social services and support from the community. We also need to examine the structural factors which lead to such conflicts: many dormitories in Singapore are crowded, with many men sharing a single room, infested with pests and bed bugs. Long working hours, and poor quality sleep lead to fatigue and frayed nerves. These workers also have to cope with the stress of living abroad and providing for their families. Therefore, the physical, social and psychological well being of foreign workers need to be addressed if the government wants to minimise violence and conflict among the community. This has to be reflected not just in our laws and policies but our attitudes and modes of engagement. The economic significance of foreign workers justifies spending more on their welfare; yet the amount of resources allocated to this is disproportionate to the contributions that they make. This has to change because investing in the wellbeing of migrant workers is an important part of building mutual respect, and upholding the dignity of those who are marginalised; Non-discrimination and equality are the key values of this approach, and absolutely necessary if we want a more cohesive society.